The Troy Street Observer

July 10: Jimmy McHugh’s Boston Years

Photo of Jimmy McHugh
Jimmy McHugh, ca. 1918

The Bay State has had its share of contributors to the Great American Songbook (Louis Alter, Billy Hill, the brothers Charles and Harry Tobias, Harry M. Woods), but the one at the top of the list is Jimmy McHugh, from Jamaica Plain. He wrote some 500 songs between the mid-1920s and mid-1950s, among them “A Most Unusual Day,” “Don’t Blame Me,” “Exactly Like You,” and “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening.” The prolific McHugh earned his spot in the top tier of American songwriters.

We visited McHugh earlier this year, when he returned to Boston as a conquering hero and the mayor honored him with “Jimmy McHugh Day” in 1960. On this his birthday, we’ll go to the other end of his career, when he was starting out.

McHugh learned the piano at home, at a time when the piano in the parlor and the family singalong were the state-of-the-art home entertainment system. His mother was a fine pianist and Jimmy’s first teacher. He played both classical and popular music, and she encouraged him at every opportunity.

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Feb 16, 1960: Mayor Declares Jimmy McHugh Day

On Feb 16, 1960, Mayor John Collins proclaimed the day to be Jimmy McHugh Day in Boston. James Francis McHugh, born in Jamaica Plain, went from plumber’s helper to one of the nation’s top songwriters,  composing some 500 songs between the mid-1920s and mid-1950s. Along the way he played piano on Revere Beach, plugged songs for Irving Berlin, hired Duke Ellington at New York’s Cotton Club, formed an indelible partnership with lyricist Dorothy Fields, and wrote for Broadway and Hollywood with lyricists including Harold Adamson, Frank Loesser, and Johnny Mercer. His songs—among them “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,” “Don’t Blame Me,” “Exactly Like You,” “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening”—placed McHugh in the top tier of American songwriters.

Jimmy McHugh
McHugh in Las Vegas, 1953

His songwriting mojo seems to have left him in the early fifties, and he spent his remaining years concentrating on music publishing, and being a Hollywood celebrity. He knew everybody, and was famous for his pool parties.

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